SJCF Is Seeking Solution To Maintain VINP Aluminum Can Recycling Program

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VINP Removes Recycling Bins as Collection Stalls

VINP staff have removed the recycling bins, above, within the V.I. National Park.

Visitors from around the mainland U.S. and the world have been trained to recycle aluminum cans, but they can no longer recycle their aluminum cans in the Virgin Islands National Park.

The VINP has shut down the St. John Community Foundation’s volunteer recycling program in the St. John park because SJCF was not able to come up with a solution which would keep up with the public participation — and the VINP couldn’t keep  the recycled cans separated from other trash and deliver them to the Susannaberg Transfer Station.

Unfortunately, after a recent exchange of e-mails between VINP officials and Kalousek, VINP officials abruptly removed the recycling bins in the park which had been built for the Community Foundation program and effectively ended aluminum can recycling in the park.

“… the aluminum cans needs to be pick up ASAP,” an NPS official wrote SJCF Director Celia Kalousek on June 4, at 2:35 p.m. “Please have someone remove them, they are making our facilities look like a dump because the bins are full and the cans are scattered on the ground.”

By Thursday, June 5, VINP employees had removed most of the bins.

Over-flowing Recycling Bins
It has been difficult to coordinate a volunteer system to collect aluminum cans from recycling bins at VINP facilities and the recycling bins the St. John Community Foundation helped place in park have at times themselves been a blight, SJCF director Kalousek admitted.

“As much as the Park appreciates the recycling of aluminum; it must once again be stated the Park does not have resources or man power to support a recycling program,” another VINP official had written Kalousek on May 27. “The Building and Utilities Division currently has less man power then when this project was discussed with you… in July of 2013.”

“The aluminum recycling bins must be maintained and serviced on a regular basis as directed by the St. John Community Foundation with all areas free from debris,” the VINP official wrote. “If this is not a viable option, please advise the Park and the recycle bins will be removed from the Park.”

VIWMA Suspended Collection
In addition to her numerous projects, Kalousek has been trying to find volunteers to empty the recycling bins around the island since the V.I. Waste Management Agency funding cuts ended their regular collection of the cans for the program — while simultaneously trying to convince VINP officials to have the park’s maintenance department pick up the bags of recycled cans along with their regular pick-ups from the park’s secured trash bins.

The WMA staff was already working with Kalousek to set aside bags of recycled cans at Susannaberg for SJCF to process at its own site.

If the VINP would take the bags of cans along with the bagged trash from their scores of bins throughout the park along the north shore of St. John to the V.I. Waste Management transfer station in Susannaberg, Kalousek reasoned.

Award-winning Environmental Program
Between 2007, when a few industrious volunteers built the first green aluminum can recycling bins out in Coral Bay, through 2010 the program had grown from 3 bins to over 30 across the island. Volunteer Barb Douma even won the 2011 US EPA Environmental Quality Award for demonstrating an outstanding commitment to protecting and enhancing environmental quality and public health!

The program grew from a few volunteers to a project that needed funding because it had become bigger and more complex than a few volunteers could reliably handle. St. John Community Foundation’s Paul Devine worked hard to get support for the St. John program from the Recycling Association of the Virgin Islands (RAVI) based out of St. Croix, which is no longer in existence, and eventually was able to secure funding through a WMA Community Enrichment grant.

The WMA funding enabled the St. John Community Foundation to hire an independent contractor to maintain the bins weekly, sort out the glass, plastic and trash, and take the cans over to Sanitary Trash Services for recycling two times a month. That process worked well for over two years.

VIWMA Hit by Funding Cuts
However, the money received for the cans would barely cover the cost of transportation, so when WMA’s budget was cut for the 2012-13 fiscal year and the program could not sustain itself, WMA agreed to take the responsibility of collecting the cans from the recycle bins island wide.

“I understand the Park’s frustration with the cans not being picked up before they start piling up, and although I am thrilled that people WANT to recycle, I am sorry that we have not all been able to develop a plan within the Park that works for the good of all.” Kalousek wrote in response in an e-mail to VINP officials and Community Foundation members.

“I understand that the Park was willing to have the recycle bins in the park as long as they were maintained,” Kalousek admitted. “I had hoped that when Waste Management was unable to continue the funding of the aluminum can pick up that we were coordinating, and said they would take it over, that it would have been in a manner that would have been sufficient and not have the cans piling up in what are supposed to be our most beautiful tourist destinations.”

Complaint Leads to Park Decision
The VINP’s ultimate decision to suspend the VINP participation in aluminum recycling began with a May 15 internal NPS e-mail from a VINP Ranger.

“Yesterday I received a complaint that the aluminum cans do not get removed often enough,” the ranger wrote. ”After the recent rains, the cans were floating all over the pools that collect along the Trunk Bay service road.

“It was suggested that they should probably just be removed when full by our employees and thrown away like other trash, instead of being blown around all over the Trunk Bay grounds,” the ranger added.

In response to the VINP warning, Kalousek put out an appeal to the group of people who are trying to make improvements to the recycling efforts on island.

Kalousek also was hoping that, until a solution could be found, that the bags of cans from the recycling bins could be picked up with the Park’s regular trash pick-up which is taken to the Susannaberg Transfer station. WMA staff had told Kalousek they could meet the VINP employees at the dump and sort the bags of cans from the bags of trash and take them for recycling over in St. Thomas.

WMA Employees Offer Solution
“When I mentioned that the WMA/Susannaberg yard guys already agreed to meet the park staff when they arrive at the dump with the Park trash at the dump, and get the bags of cans from them, it did not seem like a workable solution from the Park’s standpoint,” Kalousek e-mailed SJCF supporters.

“I have been working with several people to see how we can work to keep the cans out of the waste stream and recycle them which as you know is important as far as keeping our island green,” Kalousek wrote VINP officials.

“I totally understand that both the Park and Waste Management are short staffed,” she continued. “BUT when I mentioned that you said you had to consider the possibility of taking the cans with the rest of the trash to the dump, Waste Management said employees would meet your trucks at the dump when they come with the park trash and they would take the bags of cans from you.”

“Let me know if you have any other ideas that might work, and anyone else who might be interested in helping,” Kalousek added. “As of right now, everyone is understaffed and under funded, but I think we all know the importance of preserving the islands by recycling what we can!

“Deputy Superintendent Jayne Schaffer said that if the bins were not maintained by us/WMA then they would have to be removed from the Park, meaning the recyclable cans would be thrown in the regular Park bins with the rest of the trash,” the SJCF director wrote.

“We’d thought that whether the cans are in separate bags or mixed in with the regular trash, the park would still be taking out the same amount of trash and taking it to the dump,” Kalousek reasoned. “However, at this point, I know they do not feel they can do that.”

“Unless I hear otherwise, I will make arrangements to have the recycle bins picked up from the Park locations early next week,” Celia wrote June 4.

VINP employees had removed all but one of the bins by then.